September 25, 2013

Kenya: Mall attackers 'ashamed and defeated'

A Western embassy official said the number of dead could rise above 150 by the time all bodies are recovered.

By SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

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A Kenyan soldier runs through a corridor on an upper floor of the Westgate Mall shortly before an explosion was heard, in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday.

The Associated Press

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Family members outside the Nairobi City Mortuary mourn the death of loved ones killed in the Westgate Mall attack on Tuesday.

AP

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Al-Shabab tweeted earlier Tuesday that it was still holding hostages, who were "looking quite disconcerted but nevertheless, alive." An earlier al-Shabab tweet said: "Mujahideen are still holding their ground #westgate."

But Kenyan officials offered a different account, saying they believed that all of the hostages had been released. "We're very near the end," the Interior Ministry posted on Twitter at noon.

The conflicting statements underscored the struggle Kenyan security forces faced throughout the crisis. The military deployed helicopters, planes and armored personnel carriers and sought help from U.S., European and Israeli security advisers. Yet the militants remained resilient for four days. The mall, a labyrinthine 350,000-square-foot complex, proved an invaluable asset for the militants, affording them numerous hiding places, food and supplies.

In Somalia, al-Shabab runs a brutal campaign against fellow Muslims, implementing strict Islamic sharia law enforced by public stonings, amputations and beatings for anything it deems un-Islamic, including smoking and the wearing of bras. But witnesses said the militants at the mall targeted non-Muslims and allowed many Muslims to walk out, suggesting they wanted to appeal to radical Muslims and perhaps al-Qaida's leadership in Pakistan.

This month, al-Qaida leader Ayman Al-Zawahari released a document in which he gave guidelines for waging jihad. In it, he instructed fighters not to target Muslims and to take the citizens of nations who have invaded Muslim countries as hostages.

Whatever the motive, the siege was praised widely in online global jihadist forums. According to SITE, on a well-known forum called al-Fida, one extremist wrote: "The operation is a successful blow by the mujahideen brothers from all aspects: the security effort, the planning, the execution, and the selection of the target with precision."

Another lauded the militants as "lions" who had recorded "the most magnificent epics of sacrifice and redemption in the midst of the land of the Crusaders."

Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group said al-Shabab had two objectives in storming the mall: to demonstrate it remains a relevant jihadist force and to trigger a heavy-handed response from Kenyan security forces both within Kenya and in southern Somalia, where Kenyan troops remain active. That could push local clans, he said, to fight against Kenya and other African forces protecting the Somali government, which al-Shabab seeks to oust. In Kenya, such a response could alienate Somalis and other Muslims and drive them to join al-Shabab.

"Kenyans should be concerned about other attacks, but the best response is a measured one," Hogendoorn said. "Rather than a security clampdown, the better response is to enlist the support of Somalis and the greater Muslim community to counter radicalization and collect, and share, information on jihadi cells."

Describing the siege as the "blessed Nairobi operation," al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mahmoud Ragi vowed in an audio speech released by the militia to launch more attacks in Kenya if Kenyan troops do not leave Somalia, according to SITE. Kenyatta and other government officials have said that is not an option.

"If you refuse, you saw what happened, and this is just the beginning," Ragi said.

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